Parents who create an alliance with the teacher early on can help a child with an attention-deficit disorder get off to a positive start, says Drew Edwards, adjunct associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University. If parents and teachers think of themselves as a team, the extreme inattentiveness and impulsiveness that are characteristic of children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) may be less likely to hinder school success, Edwards says.
In the classroom, children are required to sit still, raise their hands and work independently. Difficult for many children, these tasks are a bigger challenge for those with AD/HD, says Edwards, author of the 1999 book, “How to Handle a Hard-to-Handle Kid.”
“Anything parents can do to improve parent/teacher relations will have a positive impact on the child,” he says.
Parents should start by sharing with the teacher the strategies they and other teachers have found useful, Edwards says. He suggests working out an arrangement with the teacher to be informed when larger projects are coming up. Then, parents can help the child break those assignments down into smaller parts. This strategy can be helpful, for example, even when a child is working on a set of routine math homework problems. Solving 20 problems may seem overwhelming to an AD/HD child, but completing three at a time is achievable, he says.
“Providing a lot of support for effort, not just the finished product, is very important,” Edwards reminds parents. Children with AD/HD need frequent feedback.
Homework is an area where parents can have an important role, Edwards says. At home, they should set up a quiet, organized place in order to minimize distractions. He says it is helpful to find out the teacher’s expectations for homework and the consequences for not doing it.
Because consequences are so important for AD/HD children, the parent particularly needs to be aware of them, Edwards says. If a teacher already has structured consequences for not completing assignments, parents do not need to put those in place. For example, some teachers have point systems set up. The teacher awards points to students for completing homework and points are deducted for not turning it in. Points are cashed in at regular intervals for things like homework passes and extra computer time.
Assignments involving writing can be especially difficult for AD/HD kids. Seek cooperation from the teacher to explore strategies that may help, Edwards suggests. For example, many children do well when they dictate the answers to questions and have their parents put them down on paper. (Of course, the parent has to write down exactly what the child says without editing it.) This can help the child bypass the stumbling block of writing to focus on learning the subject matter.
If problems do develop in the classroom, “parents and teachers can also work together to develop a system of rewards,” Edwards says.
He suggests identifying three or four specific problem behaviors, such as failure to raise a hand before answering a question, not completing work or leaving a seat at inappropriate times. A teacher can rate performance in those areas each day and send the daily ratings home with the child. Parents can reward the child based on the evaluation.
Positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior is much more effective than punishment for negative behavior, says Edwards, who regularly works with AD/HD children and their families in his clinical child psychology practice.
If parents are in a position to volunteer at the child’s school, that can also help develop the parent/teacher partnership.
Edwards reminds parents that there is more to life than school. School problems can cast a shadow over everything in the child’s life. He suggests encouraging a child to get involved in at least one activity outside of school. This helps build self-esteem and social relationships, he says. The activity should not be taken away if school performance is not up to par. Action-oriented activities, particularly individualized sports, often work well.
“Being too negative is the biggest mistake parents can make,” says Edwards. “Sincere encouragement” is what all children, and particularly AD/HD children, need.
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